Not to elevate the importance of one quarter over another in gaining success over the course the fiscal year, but given the role of momentum in B2B sales, there are reasons sales managers need to emphasize Q1, and how you approach the rest of the year based on your Q1 results. As Skip Miller said in his book “ProActive Sales Management”:
“If you, as a sales manager, do not know if you are going to make the year after the first quarter, the battle is over. Now you better be lucky.”
Given the hint of spring in the air, clocks turned forward, and the numbers for Q1 are trickling in, it is time to take inventory and adjust your plans for delivering your quota for the year.
The role of the sales manager has changed as much as any element of sales, especially advances in tech, automation, and skills training. Some managers have been reduced to minding systems as much as they are expected to LEAD their teams to success. As with everything, there are pros and cons, and one of the big advantages is the amount of actionable data the tools above make available to sales organizations and reps. The greater visibility into each sale, the pipeline, and activity allows managers to get ahead of trends sooner, and make the adjustments needed coming out of Q1, and drive results throughout the year.
While no template fits across all B2B organizations, here are three things managers can help their reps implement heading into Q2. I’ve spoken to managers, reps, and senior leaders, and here are a few that get broad support.
The balance I was going for is how to implement best and take full advantage of the tools and techniques available today, but not at the cost of abandoning proven fundamentals. While markets and many elements of selling have changed, the fundamentals of good selling have not. As one VP with a proven record of delivering, put it: “The process of good selling is no different today than it was six months or 10 years ago. On the other hand, the issues that will surface today will be quite different.”
What was surprising in speaking to some sales veterans, was their tendency to lean “market changes” as their reason for struggling to exceed quota. Surprising because change is what salespeople live on; without change, there is no opportunity. Even if you are the incumbent, your customer needs to see you as evolving and changing in in line with their objectives. Failing to do that, and relying on “relationship”, sells books but does not deliver ongoing revenue.
Not surprising, top of the list for most, and a positive for fundamentals was the recognition that being “proactive” is key, the challenge for some was auctioning the concept. With that in mind, let’s take a look at specific things you can do to crush the rest of the year and future quotas. In no particular order, here three areas of focus shared with and by the sales professionals I spoke to have worked with.
1. Activity Management – The never-ending need to manage more activity. One can’t blame reps for being confused, they are told that technology is being added to help them spend more time selling, but their experience is entirely different. As has been documented, adding technology does not have the returns expected if implemented in wrong way. With the additional steps, and controls, the activity has shifted from just doing things, to activity required to capture that activity. In some instances, technology has a measurable and ongoing negative impact results.
The opportunity for sales organizations is to look at the data and decide which applications do measurably help the volume and quality of activity, that maximize time and revenue. Examine if their process is supporting current conditions, and see how technology helps drive the process, not just replace one activity for another. The forgotten step by many is to plan beyond the change, how will they deploy regained time and resources. Without that in place, reps will be left on their own to use freed resources as they like, rather than in a planned way to improve sales activities and results.
2. Level of Engagement – The concept applies equally to your existing client base, prospect base and lead funnel. “Assume Nothing” was how one respondent put it, talk to your customers, talk to your prospect and communicate with your leads. As things change so do priorities and expectation, and by extension opportunities. A disinterested party today, can be your best prospect a week later due to changing realities; nut the opposite is also true, a big client can be a former client overnight if your engagement is not as strong as you believe.
This where proactive needs to be elevated, to be prescriptive. One of the victims of “relationship” is sellers willingness to lead the decision process, something every Subject Matter Expert is paid to do. You understand the market better than most, any individual prospect will know more about their company than you, but concerning market overall, you have seen and experienced more than most, share it with conviction. Prospects want, and need help, and are willing to follow if they know their interests are at the centre of things, they are open to different ideas, and if they get the same old from you, don’t be surprised by the results.
You have seen what works elsewhere, the steps they took, considerations that went into decisions, and most importantly, you know what hasn’t worked. Share, and recommend, left to their think, the Status Quo, where they are now will prevail, no sale.
3. Client First – Again, tried and true, but with the reality of quotas, and other pressures on sales organizations, easy to lose sight of. This goes to engagement as presented above, as well, most sellers focus on their natural buyers, IT people for tech reps, finance folks for financial sellers, etc. But the ultimate client is the company, changes made in one area of a company, impact workflows of other departments or divisions. More than ever, you need to expand your expertise status to a broad range of people within customer organizations. Everyone talks about “Org Chart”, few work them.
The reason you want to bring more the “usual suspects” into a purchase decision, is not just to better understand how your offering will impact them. You will usually discover an equal amount of support from unexpected parts of the company; or at times, some potential unknown opposition. By expanding beyond the obvious, you will discover more reasons for them to buy from you, rather than the folks “they always dealt with.” The very same people they gave your order to.
When you align the three factors above, you can create an action plan that leads to results, not just activity for the sake of activity. Most agreed that engagement is more crucial than ever, but they were struggling to achieve that while still offering something different than the pack. The three things above are a start, and by getting them in order, you will set yourself or team up for future changes and future success. It is about helping your buyers make a decision, (one favourable to you we hope). There are those who believe that you need to have a relationship before any of the above can happen. But real relationships take a long time to establish, longer than a given quarter or commercial quota, and even then, the only certainty is a relationship, not revenue. Whereas I can engage and share the benefit of my expertise to get a buyer to act, long before ‘We’re buds”.
Sorry, there was no magic dust, but if you are willing to plan for and commit to improving your sales, these are three solid starting steps. One last suggestion, you don’t need to change everything overnight. Step back and see which of the three will be the most natural step to introduce given your team and sales culture. Implement that, measure, adjust, and celebrate your success no matter how small, then build on!
Tibor Shanto works with leading B2B companies including Bell Mobility, Imperial Oil, Pitney Bowes, and others, helping them improve their sales execution and results. Called a brilliant sales tactician, Tibor works with clients to translate sales strategy to reality. Tibor develops sales people who understand that success in sales is about execution – everything else is just talk!